Everard Findlay dismantles the luxury of ignorance
Story by Knox Robinson / Photography by Aliya Naumoff
It comes as no surprise that Everard Findlay has a kickboxing sensei. Like many New Yorkers, the debonair Findlay gives the impression he’s always on the move, always engaged, always occupied, and always busy. But in his case, a martial arts regimen is less about blowing off steam than it is the study of clarity in action and cultivating a keen sense of balance in maintaining an enviable network of creative collaborations, luminary relationships, and well-produced events.
At present Findlay is best known for founding SFOTE (Special Friends Of The Earth), a combination think tank, outreach mission, and community-based organization with global reach — to call it a social organization is at once understatement and bull’s eye description. SFOTE’s first project addressed inequity in Trinidad, where some 6,000 families live packed in the impoverished area of Laventille. Findlay and Al Gore’s economic advisor Dr. Eric Hansen met with Laventille residents, and as they sorted through the litany of crime, joblessness, poverty, drug use, and teen pregnancy in the community, they realized that while Trinidad has free public education, many families in Laventille lacked transportation to the closest high schools. With the simple goal of physically getting young people to school via designated private buses, Findlay and company staged a series of awareness-raising events in Trinidad and New York (including a Tribeca Grand fundraiser with performances from TV On The Radio, Santogold, and Gang Gang Dance), SFOTE to date has raised money for six buses in Laventille.
Findlay says the “360 approach” that marks SFOTE’s efforts has its roots in his own upbringing in Trinidad. “My mother spent her whole life helping people,” he says. “My father” — an oilman in the Caribbean — “spent his helping corporations through a very structured, methodical process.” Later, in Findlay’s own career as an industrial design consultant, he saw that with the right pitch ,the direction of large companies could be shifted through small actions — baby steps that led to change with social and environmental implications. “As an individual you know you can change to more energy-efficient lightbulbs, turn off lights during the daytime, things like that, to address one’s carbon footprint,” he says. “Obviously a hotel or a corporation has different needs and a different set of concerns, but the power they have is the power to do things on a larger scale.”
In his own estimation, Findlay’s unique stewardship of ideas and relationships comes at a time when a critical number of people across social strata are open to thinking and doing differently. “Right now no one can afford the luxury of saying, ‘it doesn’t matter,’” he explains. “Right now you can have the same conversation with a gangster from the ghetto who has chosen a life of crime to sustain himself and his family — someone who at the same time knows he can’t continue with it — and someone at the head of a company. People at corporations are getting facts and figures now; what’s happening to our environment and our society is not a myth.”
Yet rather than propagandize in the blogosphere or agitate for reform from outside the corporate structure, Findlay brings disparate forces together to cook up common sense solutions that found early success with the Laventille buses and should define the next SFOTE project in war torn Ivory Coast. He’s likewise engaged, occupied — busy, even — with planning energy systems and smart buildings in a partnership with financier Robert J. Shiver and constructing an “artist live/work space” on the island of Gasparee off the coast of Trinidad with Rome prize winning architect Thomas Tsang. It’s this sort of restless creative energy that links Findlay with like-minded collaborators Hansen, Shiver, and Tsang, and bands such as TVOTR and Santogold, which have supported his endeavors in the past, and are clearly on board to collaborate with him on his endeavors in the future. “It’s not about just putting stuff out there, but rather the process that’s interesting. That’s how you find real solutions,” he says. “It’s more challenging, but real solutions are the only way to go. Halfway is no way to me.”